Rob Calabrese’s second season-ending knee injury in the past 10 months forced UCF to scramble at not one, but two positions. But the Knights vowed that they have enough reinforcements to still thrive at the quarterback and receiver slots despite the loss of their senior leader.
Calabrese suffered a torn ligament to the same (left) knee that he injured last October on a touchdown run against Marshall, effectively ending his season again. Because Calabrese was serving dual roles throughout training camp, the Knights are now down a veteran receiver and their third-string, emergency quarterback.
But on Tuesday, the thoughts were not so much about the position shifts as they were for Calabrese, one of UCF’s most respected players and leaders on and off the field. He’ll soon undergo another surgery to repair the ligament that popped on a non-contact play in which he was simply cutting. He could use a redshirt season and possibly return in 2012.
“He’s a great kid,” UCF coach George O’Leary said of Calabrese. “I just feel bad for him. Same thing. He just was stopping and all of a sudden the knee went out again. He tore the same knee, the ACL. He’ll probably want to come back, knowing him. He’s such a great competitor, but that hurts because he had so many roles on the team.”
The Knights lost their top three receivers from last season and are young and inexperienced on the outside. Calabrese was shifted from quarterback to receiver in the spring in hopes of giving the receiving corps more size and a solid athlete.
Now, more of the focus shifts to senior wide out A.J. Guyton and junior speedster Quincy McDuffie. Losing Calabrese could also open up playing time for freshmen Josh Reese, J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall, all of whom have opened eyes in training camp with their sure hands and ability to make plays.
“Losing Rob was real big blow because he was one of the vets who really helped us out with the rotation. He’s also played a big role in motivating our young players as well,” McDuffie said. “It just causes us to step up to the plate, lead by example and make plays. We have to push those young guys and help them push through.”
Added senior tight end Adam Nissley: “We know somebody has to step up now and fill that void. Rob was getting to the point where he was an asset in this offense. He was catching balls and making plays and we were getting used to seeing him out there. We have some guys who can step up. If it takes A.J., Quincy or me stepping up and catching passes, we’ll do it.”
The Knights also have to develop a plan to find a third quarterback behind standout Jeff Godfrey and blossoming redshirt freshman Blake Bortles. One option, O’Leary said, could be using Guyton, a quarterback at Homestead High School during his prep days five seasons ago. The fifth-year senior has already told the coaching staff of his willingness to work at quarterback and he’s confident that he could direct the run-heavy offense from a “Wild Knight” formation.
“I told (offensive coordinator) coach (Charlie) Taaffe during the walk-through today that I could fill in at quarterback and he just looked at me,” Guyton said with a laugh. “But if they need me to get back there just in case something happens to Jeff or Blake, I’d be happy to do it. I love quarterbacking. My junior and senior years we ran the spread offense. I loved quarterback a lot.”
When Calabrese injured his knee last season he impressed coaches and teammates with his willingness to stay around the team and help out as much as he could. He was in most every quarterback meeting and he often suggested ideas to Godfrey, then a freshman, along the sidelines during games. Nissley said he fully expects that Calabrese will do what he can to help out once again.
“It was just a freak accident. He was just running the route, made a plant and it buckled up under him. As a team we feel really bad about it because Rob worked so hard to get back from the last injury,” Nissley said. “But Rob’s a real strong-willed kid. He’ll still have the attitude to help this team win and he’ll be with us in the meetings. He’ll still be an asset and help us win.”